Will Lifting the Libyan Arms Embargo Help Beat ISIS?

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Secretary Kerry believes there should be an exemption to the Libyan embargo, in order to arm the UN-backed government

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Libya has had no stable government since rebel militias, supported by a NATO no-fly zone, ousted Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since the summer of 2014, two rival governments have each claimed legitimacy: the Tobruk Government in the east and the National Salvation Government in the western capital of Tripoli. In December 2015, a UN-backed unity government, the Government of National Accord (GNA), was created and in March 2015 it arrived in Tripoli. All the rival factions claim power throughout Libya but only hold sway in limited portions of the territory. ISIS has also used the chaos as an opportunity to capture territory in parts of central coastal Libya.

John Kerry and 21 world leaders met May 16th to sign a statement that would carve out an exemption to the UN embargo on weapons to Libya in order to arm the UN-backed GNA. Kerry believes keeping the embargo in place but working out an exemption for the GNA is the key to fighting ISIS in Libya.

“The GNA is the only entity that can unify the country. It is the only way to ensure that vital institutions… fall under representative and acknowledged authority. … It is the only way to generate the cohesion necessary to defeat Daesh [IS],” Kerry said.  In order to draft an exemption to the embargo, the UN-backed GNA must create a list of supplies it needs and wait for approval from the UN Security Council.

Putting western boots on the ground fighting alongside local forces could present the GNA as a puppet government which would be counterproductive to the entire purpose of establishing a unity government to fight ISIS. This is why Kerry believes supplying the GNA with weapons in order to defend the country on their own is so important.

Kerry admits a “delicate balance” must be found in order to make sure weapons don’t fall into the hands of ISIS, rival governments, or any of Libya’s other militant groups. Indeed, Libya is still in the middle of chaos and the UN has only considered the GNA Libya’s official government as recently as March of this year.

 

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  • Secretary Kerry believes there should be an exemption to the Libyan embargo, in order to arm the UN-backed government
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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi supports wholly lifting the embargo so the Libyan National Army, the GNA's rival, can properly defend the country

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Despite a meeting on May 8th with Fayez al-Serraj – Libyan Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi urged the UN to wholly lift its arms and assets embargo on Libya, Egypt’s neighbor to the west.

El-Sisi said, “the arms embargo on the Libyan National Army (LNA) must be lifted in order for it to be able to perform its duties properly.” El-Sisi believes supporting the LNA is the best chance for fighting ISIS in Libya and stabilizing the country. The LNA, however, is not aligned with Serraj’s UN-backed GNA.

El-Sisi has continuously shown support for the LNA, sending Egyptian military experts to help with training efforts. He has repeatedly called on the international community to rally behind the LNA.

In fact, both the GNA and LNA are competing to win territory and gain the favor of the international community. Recently, the two armies have been using the Western desire to oust ISIS from its North African base in the coastal city of Sirte as a chance to flex their military capability to prove their effectiveness in eradicating ISIS from Libya.

According to el-Sisi, international intervention would not have to be a consideration if the LNA had proper support. “If we provide arms and support for the Libyan National Army, it can do the job … better than any outside intervention that risks taking us into a situation that could … bring about developments that escape our control,” he said.

Indeed, international diplomatic intervention has resulted in the Government of National Accord becoming the new UN-backed “official” government of Libya despite the lack of unity. According to el-Sisi, arming the GNA and not the LNA could lead to an unbalanced civil war which would only exacerbate the chaos. Imposing the GNA as Libya’s “official” government without Libyan support could backfire and boost the popularity of the LNA.

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  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi supports wholly lifting the embargo so the Libyan National Army, the GNA's rival, can properly defend the country
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Analyst Jason Pack believes the arms embargo should not be lifted as Libya currently has no unimpeachably sovereign government deserving of weapons

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Currently Libya’s multiple governments and militias have been trying to prove how efficiently they can tackle ISIS. Most recently, GNA forces and the Libyan National Army (lead by General Haftar) have been essentially using their assaults against the port town of Sirte to prove their worth in the fight against ISIS in Libya – along with proving their legitimacy to the international community.

Jason Pack, analyst and president of Libya-Analysis consultancy, believes that the UN arms embargo should not be lifted – and no exemption should be carved out – as Libya currently has no stable government deserving of weapons. “Libya doesn’t need any more weapons; Libya is already rife with weapons,” Pack said.

“Libya currently has no elected or sovereign government. The GNA – even if they are our allies – shouldn’t get more weapons because they haven’t done anything to deserve it yet. They have promised to fight ISIS but only recently have they made advances towards Sirte,” Pack told Parallax News.

Indeed, neither side has delivered much in the way of tangible results when it comes to fighting ISIS. According to Pack, this makes situations like the one Sirte so important. UK special forces have been supplying weapons and reportedly fired a missile at an ISIS target in order to assist the local forces – who are loyal to the GNA – near Misrata. This, according to Pack, indicates that local forces still need assistance from the west.

Since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has had no sovereign government. “We have no leverage if we just give the GNA everything they ask for without doing anything to prove they deserve it,” Pack said. By lifting or carving out exemptions to the embargo, Pack believes the GNA will have no incentive to make good on promises to defeat ISIS, hold elections, or attempt to establish unity throughout Libya.

Pack argues that the United States and UK have been overly eager to work only with the GNA. Their bureaucratic protocol necessitates it now that they recognize the GNA as Libya’s legitimate government. They are showering attention on the GNA to try to show Libyans the benefits of supporting it. UN envoy Martin Kobler recently remarked that Misrata is severely lacking hospitals for treating anti-ISIS fighters. Anti-ISIS Libyan fighters are even being air-lifted for treatment in British hospitals.

Pack continued, “In international law, Libya should currently be considered terra nullius which means Libya cannot buy arms as ‘Libya’. Most of our governments have rules against selling weapons to sub-state militias. But now it’s too late: we have already recognized the GNA as ‘Libya’ and entered a process which would allow them to buy arms.” This could lead to catastrophic failure if the LNA and other militias aren’t incorporated into the new unity government – leading to an intensified civil war.

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  • Analyst Jason Pack believes the arms embargo should not be lifted as Libya currently has no unimpeachably sovereign government deserving of weapons
  • Vote to Agree 331% Agree